In 1985 the Fernwood Community Association (FCA) took charge of the arid site and aimed to make it a volunteer-run space. By 1994 the volunteer project was progressed further when the FCA proposed the Spring Ridge Commons idea to the Greater Victoria School District, receiving an on-going lease. The initial plan for this site was as a volunteer -run open space and pathways project (enhanced by rock walls). This also included making the Commons a space for the community, while recognizing its historical significance as a heritage site.
The idea of having Spring Ridge Commons as a “community permaculture site” blossomed in 1999 with the suggestions of community members, and the leadership of local permaculturalist Geoff Johnson. During Summer 1999, when Geoff first began to get involved, Spring Ridge Commons was a pedestrian throughfare bounded by car -excluding boulders with low-growing native and drought tolerant plants established in some areas.
Because this site was once a parking lot, there were concerns about whether toxic chemicals in the ground would compromise plans for an edible garden. Fortunately, through soil testing, it was determined that the majority of the ground was safe and no temporary measures or remediation efforts were required. And where a small area of contaminants was found, the solution was to grow willows for basket-weaving and other uses rather than edible plants.
In Summer 2001, there was an unprecedented thrust of energy witnessed at Spring Ridge Commons facilitated by an NDP $8,000 Provincial Environmental Youth Team Program Grant. * This phase of the Project was called “Have to Have a Habitat Community Greenspace Creation Project” and this was a partnership between the Fernwood Community Association and the Greater Victoria Compost Education Centre. Vancouver’s Cottonwood Community Garden in Strathcona was the inspiration for the design for Spring Ridge Commons.
In order to make possible the kind of garden that was envisioned at the Commons, sheet mulching, a permaculture strategy was implemented. By utilizing abundant sources of urban waste, the soil`s fertility was kick-started – generating ecosystem and dramatically increased its capacity to retain moisture while choking out weeds – all without digging! During a long series of volunteer work parties, literally several tonnes of organic waste was diverted from the landfill and carefully applied in layers on top of the existing gravel. Cardboard, newspaper, landscaping waste, manure from the carriage tour folks, produce from local grocery stores, leaves, okara from the tofu factory, and kitchen scraps from local restaurants formed a magical rotting lasagne to begin healing the parched urban soil and to produce several new inches of biologically active humus on each of the beds.
As the years went on and as the number of helping hands increased, the arid gravel site began to transform: in addition to building up the soil, volunteers planted fruit trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants, constructed traditional rock walls, installed orchard mason bee boxes, tackled invasive grasses and other species such as Morning Glory, weeded, sheet mulched, built trellises for the loganberries, and constructed a compost and irrigation system. In a permaculture garden, compatible plants are situated together. There is an emphasis on berries, fruits and other perennial plants. The soil is mulched but otherwise left to develop its structure without disturbance, so the annual planting and cultivation work associated with traditional vegetable gardens is not required. As a permaculture garden evolves, yields increases while inputs of materials and energy decreases.
In June 2006, a resolution was passed at the Fernwood Community Association (FCA) Annual General Meeting that “places the FCA on record supporting the Spring Ridge Commons as a freely accessible permaculture garden.” The FCA has traditionally promoted proactive ideas such as organic gardening, recycling, and water conservation and this project was seen as a continuation of the FCA’s support for local solutions to global problems. (1) When the lease transferred from the FCA to LifeCycles in May 2007, LifeCycles signed a Memorandum of Agreement agreeing in principle to maintain Spring Ridge Commons as a permaculture garden / innovative community greenspace.
Transfer of Lease from the Fernwood Community Association to Lifecycles Project Society……..
In 2007, during the time the lease for the site was transferred from the Fernwood Community Association (FCA) to LifeCycles Project Society (LifeCycles), a Steering Committee was formed to steward the site and guide the Commons forward and Matthew Kemshaw, an employee of LifeCycles became the primary steward of the site. For a period of a few months Matthew was paid for an hour or two each week to act as site steward. This payment came from a grant that LifeCycles had received to steward the commons. (Note: LifeCycles was able to secure a number of grants which Spring Ridge Commons directly benefitted from when they held the lease and in subsequent years – post lease) Matthew was site coordinator from 2007-2009. The funding ran out after 4 months, after which he continued to steward the site as a volunteer and continued to do so in affiliation with LifeCycles. Bi-weekly work parties were led by Commitee members- these work parties attracted many new and diverse volunteers who tackled the grasses and other invasives (like Morning Glory) which were (and still are) growing rampantly on site. Weeding and sheet mulching were regular activities! They also built trellises for the loganberries, a composter, and extended and repaired the irrigation. There were plans for several projects to continue improving Spring Ridge Commons and make it more productive (through soil improvement and continued plantings) and more assessible as a community resource, through workshops, increased efforts toward neighbourhood involvement and a signage project.
Mapping and Signage Project (2008)………..
In 2008, LifeCycles initiated a mapping and signage project to provide visitors to the commons with a map and information about the plants found there: when to harvest them, properties of the plants and how to enjoy them.
There was an large information board and map to help people navigate their way around this edible and educational garden. There were also small signs by some of the plant offering information on their uses, origin and harvesting practices.
Gratitude to Geoff Johnston, Matthew Kemshaw, Danielle Stevenson, Mila Czemrys, Tamara SunSong and Julia Adam for their contribution to developing the signage at Spring Ridge Commons. Much thanks also to LifeCycles who initiated this mapping and signage project and YouthCore Program – SPARKS Grant who funded this project.
In 2009 Matthew Kemshaw left Victoria for a job with Vancouver Environmental Youth Alliance’s Growing Kids and Community Nursery projects. Before leaving, he brought together a steering committee of volunteers to act as collective steward of Spring Ridge Commons. The committee was comprised of seven people – all those recruited had either been involved in work parties or were food activists or had some training in permaculture or otherwise had an interest.
Transition Victoria Food Group and the Fernwood NRG ……..
In October 2010 at the 10/10/10 Work Party in Spring Ridge Commons, The Transition Victoria Food Group became the stewards of Spring Ridge Commons and Linda Chan agreed to be one of the Site Coordinators. She also initiated a Facebook page for Spring Ridge Commons, a word press site and also took on the gmail account firstname.lastname@example.org. The Fernwood NRG also became the leaseholder around the same time when LifeCycles realized they could no longer afford the water bill and the lease needed to be transferred elsewhere.
Transition Victoria Food Group organized monthly meetings and work parties for about 8 months. Work party tasks included mulching some trees with wood chips, and inoculating them with the mycelium of wine cap mushrooms, some plantings, weeding morning glories + and other invasives and placing down rocks to make the paths more defined. Work on the on-site composter and on the irrigation system were also done. Here is a description of one of the work parties: Transition Victoria / Integreen First Event – Work Party in Spring Ridge Commons
Events were also organized to bring awareness and fundraising to Spring Ridge Commons: Transition Victoria Food Group Open House – Slides, presentations on their current project and on permaculture, conversation, snacks, tea, learning and sharing. Opportunity to find out how you can get involved with the Spring Ridge at the Fernwood Community Association Hall (Jan 2011); A Day of Thanksgiving at Spring Ridge Commons (Oct 2011) ;Evening with Food Forester Richard Walker, with proceeds going to Spring Ridge Commons (2011 to 2014).
Re-Creation of the Herb Spiral with Mikael Jamal (Aug / Sept 2011)……..
This beautiful culinary herb spiral was re-created in August /September 2011 by Mikael Jahmal with the assistance of Linda Chan. The work involved was more challenging than anticipated with much efforts in de-grassing, de-rocking (boulders, concrete, etc. -some over 100 lbs was uncovered in the herb spiral itself) and eventually reconstructing it with the existing rock, concrete, etc. A selection of culinary herbs that one could use were planted in this herb spiral: rosemary, thymes, lemon basil, sages, oregano, cutting celery, parsley, cilantro, bay, vietnamese coriander, lemon verbana, ginger mint and chocolate mint. Donations to culinary herb spiral came from Linda Chan and James Bay Community Project’s Food Garden.
Restoration of LifeCycle’s Bee Garden (August 2011)……..
In mid-August 2011, a group of volunteers re-created the Bee Garden by preparing the bed and planting bee-friendly plants/seed. This was the same bed of the original Bee Garden created by LifeCycles in 2001. We had planted in this bee garden borage, nasturtium, lavender, cat mint, sage, purple sprouting broccoli, marigolds, red clover, buckwheat, lemon basil, mallow, yarrow, thistle, sedum, green onion, purple oregano, fennel and black salsify – all flowers (blue, purple, white or yellow) producing plants that attract pollinators. To learn more about bees and their habitat, visit:http://
Volunteers: Bill Wilson, Colleen Wood, Linda Chan, , Mikael Jahmal, Richard Lamb and Trish Bonham – Team Leader. Bee Garden Rock Work Reconfigeration – Martin Pratt and Mark Craig. Donations to Bee Garden: Cat Mint, Purple Sprouting Brocolli, Kale – LifeCycles; Borage, Nasturtium, Sedum, purple oregano – Linda Chan; Marigolds – New Mountain Farm; Lemon Basil – Taylor Beach Farm, Black Salsify – The Garden Path. Donation of compost: Rick and Sandra of Vining St. Donation of Sea Soil: Linda Chan.
Restoration of Garry Oak Meadow + Native Plant Garden (Fall 2011):
In Summer 2011, the Garry Oak Meadow got accidently sheet-mulched by a student hired for the summer by the Fernwood NRG who was unaware that a thick sheet mulch with cardboard would prevent camas and other wildflowers from coming up in the Spring. Prior to initiating this work, Linda Chan and Dan Miller sought the advice of Native Plant and Water Wise Consultant Patricia Johnston who visited the site and recommended that the Garry Oak Meadow be unsheet-mulched, the couch grass strand pulled out and the clumps of grass dug out. She suggested various types of meadow grass that we might consider in the future. We looked at existing plants in both the Garry Oak Meadow and the Native Plant Garden and Patricia recommended the movement of some of the native plants from one area to another as well she provided us with listings of native plants that we might consider for the future. A work party led by Dan Miller was organized in mid – November to follow-through on some of Patricia’s recommendations.
Sheet-Mulching and Path Building (Spring – Summer – Fall 2012)…….
In 2012, Linda Chan initiated extensive sheet-mulching at Spring Ridge Commons with the assistance of Dan Miller, Mikael Jahmal and others with leaf mulch provided and delivered to the site by the City of Victoria Parks.
The benefits of sheet mulching…1) Sheet mulching can suppress weed growth 2) Reduce maintenance & labor since weeds are composted in place. 3) Improve water retention and nutrients in the soil. 4) Promote favorable soil microbial activity and earthworms which helps with improving the soil structure. 5) Improve plant vigor and health because your plants are now more resistant to pests and disease.
Path building at the Spring Ridge Commons became a focus with the involvement of Brent Howard, owner /operator of Garden Roots Landscape at Spring Ridge Commons who recommended, on his initial site visit, that pathways be widened for a variety of reasons [pathways easier to maintain than garden beds, need to better accommodate people in wheelchairs who visit Spring Ridge Commons and large groups (as many as 30+ people) who attend workshops/tours in the garden]. Mikael Jahmal was tasked with a lot of the work in implementing this vision with the assistance of Jeremy Caradonna, Colin Lee and others. At our monthly work parties facilitated by Brent, we spent a fair bit of time maintaining primary pathways and creating new secondary pathways in addition to pruning, clearing out old plant growth, weeding, watering, general clean-up and whatever else needed our attention at that particular time (i.e. drip irrigation system).
Pathways Wood Chipped and Beds Leaf Mulched (October 2012)
Wood chips placed on pathways and leaf mulch on beds! Much gratitude to Brent, Richard, Colin, Jeremy, Adam, Sean, Martin and Pat (at Saturday’ afternoon’s Work Party) and Sean, Linda and Emma (on Sunday) plus the City of Victoria Parks who provided and delivered wood Chips and Leaf Mulch to the Commons.
Replacement and Repairs to Structure in Centre of Commons – (June 2013)
Driftwood logs were replaced and safely secured in place by Brent Howard and Sean Newton.
Increased drug use, people camping and dangerous people at Spring Ridge Commons (June 2014)……
In June 2014, Spring Ridge Commons and the surrounding neighbors experienced the effects of increased drug use, people camping and dangerous people there…… People trying to sell crack and telling parents their kids aren’t welcome. People camping on the Stelly Street (north side of Spring Ridge Commons) and even on a neighbour’s veranda (across the street from Spring Ridge Commons).
People camping at Spring Ridge Commons was particularly challenging ….. They would be moved on and then half an hour later, they would be back with incredible amounts of stuff, as if nothing happened. So it did take a concerted effort and the neighbours grew weary and frustrated with the Fernwood NRG’s and the City of Victoria Police Dept’s inability to effect change so the neighbours effected change with some pruning shears in mid-July and took down the trellis structure and large sign with the map and the collaborative mural on the back of it for the purpose of improving sight lines and visibility into Spring Ridge Commons.
Rescue of Spring Ridge Commons by Ed Horel, Gardener (July 2014 to Oct 2014)
Ed Horel, caretaker of Spring Ridge Commons from July 2014 to October 2014 worked most days of the week from morning till sunset, taking care of the Commons from disposing garbage, weeding, watering to building new pathways plus placing chip down on existing and new pathways.
On – going volunteer work in the Commons: See Bee in the Garden
For more recent photos of Spring Ridge Commons [Click Here]
For photos and videos of Spring Ridge Commons over the years [Click Here]
As a community urban food forest / permaculture garden, Spring Ridge Commons has progressed tremendously from its days as a gravel site:
Unfortunately, to continually upkeep the site, resources need to be abundant and ongoing, which is not always easy to achieve. The Commons, at one point, was at risk of being receded into municipality hands when the site hit a rough patch in its up-keeping and more recently in mid July 2014, Spring Ridge Commons neighbors took matters into their own hands and cut it back significantly. Much of the vegetation was removed or cut back to ground level, and the larger trees were pruned up to a height so that everyone—including the neighbours walking through and the police driving by—could see right through the site. According to some immediate neighbours, this has already greatly reduced the undesirable activity on the site, while others object to the rough handling of the “forest.
Even with these political struggles and problems of limited funding and volunteer help, the productivity and beauty of Spring Ridge Commons can be upheld by community members.
Can the Commons continue to be a space of life? –where food and other flora grow, where passersby (whether humans or animals) can enjoy a peaceful permaculture place, where artists and musicians of all kinds channel their creativity and passions, and where the plots are maintained by the hands of engaged and passionate community members; circling back to be a “food forest” like the area had been for indigenous communities before colonization.
On Tuesday, April 28 from 7-9 pm, come to an action-oriented public meeting “A Fresh Start for Spring Ridge Commons”. Now is a great time to get involved with Spring Ridge Commons! Turning Vision into Action – Attend and Participate in helping to shape the future of Spring Ridge Commons plus connect with others who care about the Commons and share how you would like to be involved. More details: http://springridge.rd123.ca/?p=1244
* Source: Case Study – Spring Ridge Commons: YouTube Video: Fernwood University – Lesson 2 – Neighbourhood Power with Lee Herrin ) (2:52 – Jan 2012) — Original Source: Fernwood Free Press, Issue 2 – (Sept 2001)
(1) Back to the Garden – An article in the Fernwood News (Summer 2006) – p. 1 & p. 4 * The June 8, 2006 Resolution acknowledges the “many hours of volunteer efforts” contributed by the community (FCA members, neighbours, friends have invested their time and labour). Without their efforts, there would be no garden there today. The June 8 resolution also identifies the site as a “freely accessible permaculture garden.” – Compatible plants are situated together. There is an emphasis on berries, fruits and other perennial plants. The soil is mulched but otherwise left to develop its structure without disturbance, so the annual planting and cultivation work associated with traditional vegetable gardens is not required. As a permaculture garden evolves, yields increase while inputs of materials and energy decrease.
Community use of Spring Ridge Common also includes its role as a crossroads for foot travellers. The walking paths, which existed before the FCA created the project, have been enhanced by the rock walls outlining them and by the added vegetation. Walkers often see birds at the Common, and the ambience provides a pleasant diversion on a cross-town walk.
As a community asset, the Spring Ridge Common also represents a crossroads in the community ‘ s commitment to green space and grassroots neighbourhood democracy. By taking this path, we have opted not to pave paradise and put up a parking lot, but to get back to the garden.